This post follows from Katina's about the rise of community policing and the Vancouver and London riots. In the days after the London riots, Operation Withern was set up by the Metropolitan Police Service to investigate 'the serious disorder and violence that has been affecting parts of London'. A publicly accessible flickr photostream called 'London Disorder' was started featuring CCTV stills of suspected rioters, with the general public encouraged to participate in the identification process:

I first remember learning about such measures in 2002, after a riot following a cancelled Guns N' Roses concert in Vancouver led to the local police setting up an online forum with uploaded images of suspected criminals. We might say that as the generalization of surveillance as both concept and material reality across all social structures, überveillance aspires toward the permanent mobilization or convergence of all available platforms, bodies, spaces, and technologies. Community policing, via websites like flickr or highly visible digital billboards, is the latest step in this direction. What's interesting about London 2011 is the media attention given to rioters' attempts to thwart CCTV, using that humble item of clothing, the hoodie. According to Kevin Braddock, faces of rioters are being deliberately obscured by hoodies in an attempt to prevent them from being identified. This comes after a few years of public debate in the U.K. over the meaning of the hoodie, and calls to ban it from shopping malls and other semi-public spaces due to its association with unruly youth.

Consider the following still photo from the Metropolitan Police photostream:


Against a background of rubbish and debris, the rioter's face is indeed partially obscured by a garment hung over the head as he/she reaches to grab something across the counter. But what does this mean? Recently on ABC radio Perth, Professor Jon Stratton of Curtin University had this to say about the significance of the hoodie:

Hoodies help to disguise a person. That is to say, when you wear a hoodie, there's much less of a person's face you can see. And London has, and this is true of other British cities as well... CCTV cameras and survelliance cameras basically everywhere, so if you're going to riot in London these days then it's absolutely advisable to wear a hoodie because that will make it much harder for police to go through the surveillance footage and find you. (my italics)

Of course, for all the attention given to facial identification let us not forget that überveillance does not restrict itself to one part of the body, and there are manifold other strategies in current use to make the human body give up information.

Is uberveillance thwarted by the hoodie? Or, does the media coverage on the 'failure' of existing CCTV technologies justify the use of more sophisticated forms of data collection (monitoring of text messages, phonecalls, social networking, biometrics, embedded RFID)?

AuthorKatina Michael